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Photographs by Tissa Madawela

PPA Visakha (UK) Celebrates Visakha Vidyalaya’s Centenary  1917-2017

By Ajanta de Abrew

It was indeed a big day for us Visakhians in the UK. April 8th saw the commencement of the centenary celebrations of Visakha Vidyalaya by it's Past Pupils' Association in the UK. This coincided appropriately with Founders Day but this year, instead of the usual Mal Pahan Puja to mark the occasion the past pupils of Visakha  presented an exhibition of the life and times of Visakha over the 100 years of her existence.

The Exhibition room was beautifully arranged. The well illuminated display boards were of a very high standard. A two foot  carving  of the “pahana”, the emblem of Visakha , its outline accentuated  by light bulbs, suspended on a navy blue curtain draped across the  back wall  made  a spectacular impact as one entered the room. This was Gamini Abayawardena’s  splendid  creation, innovative art work  at its best.

The story of Visakha was related as seen through the eyes of members with supporting evidence from archived  photographs and pictures as well as interviews with other past pupils of different generations.

It began with the life and vision of the founder Mrs Selestina Rodrigo Dias, better known as Mrs Jeremias Dias. Her vision was to establish a school for girls to meet the demands of a changing world while at the same time ensuring that their feet were firmly grounded in their culture, traditions, and religion. This was followed by the early years, before and after 1927.The academic progress, of the school to keep pace with changing needs eg opening & development  of the science dept were highlighted. The first Visakhian Subadra Balasuriya, teachers  and principals  who have given their lives  to  & shaped  Visakha, facets of life in different times ,  biographies of a few of the many, many distinguished past pupils,and achievements  of the school followed. Finally ,We posed the question: “Was Selestina’s vision realised?” The answer was a  resounding “YES”.

The organisation and presentation of this event was led by the President PPA Vsakha ( UK ) Dr Harshi Boralessa with the programme co-ordinators Mithra Gajraj and Ranji Vimalathas.  Needless to say  they had the support of the entire committee and friends behind them.

The event was introduced with the strains of Danno Buddunge in the background to usher in the Venerable Maha Sangha from the London Buddhist Vihara led by Head of the Vihara, Chief Sangha Nayaka of Great Britain Most Ven. Bogoda Seelawimala Nayaka Thera followed by  Her Excellency Amari Wijewardena, the High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in the UK. The traditional lamp  was lit by the distinguished guests, the Patron and the President. 

Venerable Bogoda Seelawimala Nayaka Thera provided us with a very informative 'Anusasana'. He described the qualities of Visakha Maha Upasikawa who was a supporter of the Buddha and was well known for the purity of the life she led and her unstinting generosity. He believed that the founder  of our school Mrs Selestina Dias had a very similar personality. He commended the PPA Visakha for the support they have given over the years to the London Buddhist Vihara. He made special mention of one of our founder members, Mrs. Ari Dissanayake, who initiated and supported Buddhist activities  and involved the community in the activities of the Association. 

The  President Dr Harshi Boralessa delivered an illuminating keynote address. She talked about Mrs Selestina Dias and the innate qualities that made her a sound manager of the project – founding of Visakha. She attributed Selestina’s ability to plan, delegate, identify risks, put in place risk mitigation strategies  pivotal to the founding and progressive development  of  Visakha to its present stature.

She said that Selestina  owed her success to the application of good governance , when the concept was unknown.

H.E. The High Commissioner Mrs Amari Wijewardena spoke about the achievements of Visakha and Visakhians. She said  that Visakha  remains one of the most sought after schools and was the only girls' school to be included in the first ranch of National schools. She continued “The school takes pride in having the highest number of achievers at the GCE  Ordinary  Level  and Advanced Level Examinations &  Visakhians  had contributed immensely to the economic , social and cultural development of our country”.

The attendees were  finally treated to a wonderful spread of refreshments, including traditional Avurudu delicacies.  

The committee has  undertaken a commendable task. We like to extend our gratitude to  all those who worked tirelessly to make this  an excellent event. Undoubtedly, this evening will remain poignant with all  past pupils and  well wishers.

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